Did bugs in Samsung’s Galaxy S4 software delay its release?
FORTUNE — Last September, two weeks after it lost a $1 billion patent infringement verdict to Apple (AAPL) and four days after Apple introduced the iPhone 5, Samsung’s home-town English-language newspaper — the Korea Times — had a scoop: Citing company officials and local parts suppliers it reported that Samsung would introduce a new smartphone — the Galaxy S4 — in February 2013.
According to the newspaper, the Galaxy S4 would be “more than enough to curb Apple’s latest iPhone,” which it described as “lacking in innovative features.” The Galaxy S4, the report claimed, would sport a 5-inch screen, run Google’s Android platform and be available for purchase by March 2013 at the latest. (See Samsung to leapfrog iPhone 5 in February.)
The next day Samsung, perhaps concerned that rumors of a new Galaxy phone would cut into sales of the old, disavowed the story through its its official Twitter account,
But there’s renewed interest in the six-month-old Korea Times piece now that the S4 has finally been unveiled. Not only is Samsung being cagy about when the new device will begin to ship — before the end of April is all it has said — but there are signs that the company is still struggling with the Galaxy S4’s software.
Moreover, the Wall Street Journal, one of the only media outlets to get more than a few minutes of hands-on time with the phone after the show, reported Thursday that some of the features that were touted on stage weren’t quite ready for prime time:
“A few of the camera functions seemed gimmicky,” wrote the Journal‘s Spencer Ante, “while others failed. One called ‘Beauty Face’ was supposed to make you look better by doing things like slimming your face automatically. The feature didn’t turn me into George Clooney; in fact I couldn’t see any difference between the photos.
“Another one called ‘Drama Shot’ sounded promising in theory, letting you create one integrated photo composed from several pictures. But when I tried the feature it simply didn’t work. Samsung marketers shrugged and blamed the way we staged the photo shoot.”
Could Samsung, a company known primarily for its prowess as a hardware manufacturer, be having problems delivering in bug-free form the long list of software innovations that were supposed to leapfrog Apple’s iPhone?
On Sunday, when we questioned the wisdom of spending a lot of money and media attention in March promoting a product that wouldn’t begin to be rolled out before April (see Smartphone wars), a reader who calls himself Secular Investor offered what seemed a reasonable — if speculative — explanation:
“Advertising campaigns involving the hundreds of millions of dollars that Samsung is spending to launch the S4 have to be booked months ahead, as does reserving the venue and actors. Therefore, despite being forced to delay the start of sales by many weeks, they had to go ahead with their launch and advertising campaign.”
If Secular Investor is right, Samsung is rolling some expensive dice — gambling that its software engineers can iron out the bugs before its innovative new phone hits the stores in April or May.